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Paris with Kids: The Madeline Tour

If you were one of the lucky kids who grew up reading the Madeline series by Ludwig Bemelmans, you’ve probably already made sure that your kids have become well acquainted with the spunky little Madeline in her signature yellow-brimmed hat and Miss Clavel who takes her twelve schoolgirls on a daily tour of Paris – rain or shine.

The sites that Madeline visits are just the ones that may be on your list as well: The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame,
the Opera House, Pont Neuf,
The Tuileries Gardens and the Luxembourg Gardens. I’ve included a link to the Madeline Tour site which does such an excellent job describing each locale in a way that will make sense to kids as well as adults. So, please check out this Madeline tour description.

What you won’t find in the Madeline tour is the hospital where that famous crack in the ceiling looked strangely like a rabbit. The reason you won’t find the hospital is because the real-life hospital existed in another part of France on an island in the Bay of Biscay called Ile de Yeu.

Here is where the author Ludwig Bemelmans spent some days at St. Sauveur, a local hospital. He had landed in the hospital due to a bicycle injury after being hit by the only car on the island. The room next to his was occupied by a little girl who had just had her appendix removed. Bemelmans observed how each day, a nun would arrive with a bowl of hot soup for her charge. The nun’s habit was topped with the classic starched hat which might have reminded him of birds’ wings these picturesque habits have long since disappeared from the landscape). Here also, at St. Sauveur, was the famous crack on the hospital wall which resembled a rabbit. Remember in those days (1930s) there was not television to break up the monotony of a stay in the hospital.

Bemelsman actually wrote the first lines of the Madeline book in a New York city tavern – not a Paris cafe, but he spent his time living in both of these cosmopolitan cities.

In one of the Madeline episodes, Madeline actually falls into the Seine River (from Pont Neuf – the oldest bridge in Paris). It was only after the book was published did author Bemelmans discover during a visit along the Seine that the Seine flowed in the opposite direction from which he described Madeline floating.

Missing Madeline? Madeline is back!

If you’ve loved Madeline – and wished there was more to follow, your wish has come true.
Ludwig Bemelsman died in 1962. However his grandson John Bemelmans Marciano has taken up where his grandfather left off – and Madeline is once again exploring Europe. This time the adventurous Miss Clavel takes her charges to Rome for a visit that includes the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and other sites.

Certainly, this is an event – the first new edition of Madeline in 50 years.

Parisgirl’s suggestion: One Madeline sight, you’ll want to be sure to experience with your kids is the Eiffel Tower by moonlight. (This is the scene illustrated on the front cover of the first book of the Madeline series in 1939). In the book, Madeline’s convent boarding school was located not far from the Eiffel Tower. Even if you can’t get to the Eiffel Tower on the night of a full moon, the Eiffel provides its own light show every hour for ten minutes of thousands of twinkling lights.

Madeline and the Cats of Rome
by John Bemelmans Marciano
Viking Books $17.99

Madeline Trivia:

1. “The first words of the text, “In an old house in Paris/that was covered with vines,” were written on the back of a menu in Pete’s Tavern on the corner of Eighteenth Street and Irving Place in New York.”

2. “Editors at several publishing houses felt the book was too sophisticated for children, but it was finally published by Simon and Schuster on September 5, 1939. All five subsequent Madeline books were published by Viking.”

3. Author Ludwig Bemelmans never underestimated the intelligence of kids:
“We are writing for children, but not for idiots,” he once stated.

Madeline (Reissued)